Star Trek II book makes long-awaited debut in time for Star Trek Day

Mexican actor Ricardo Montalban on the set of Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, directed by Nicholas Meyer. (Photo by Paramount Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)
Mexican actor Ricardo Montalban on the set of Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, directed by Nicholas Meyer. (Photo by Paramount Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images) /

John and Maria Jose Tenuto’s long-delayed Star Trek II book is now available.

The Great Bird brought me something very special just in time for Star Trek Day 2023: A brand-new Star Trek II book! Yes, my copy of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan: The Making of the Classic Film (Titan Books) by John Tenuto and Maria Jose Tenuto, which I pre-ordered in June 2022, finally arrived. And I’m pleased to report this lavishly illustrated coffee table chronicle of how the second and, arguably, still the best Star Trek movie came to be is more than worth the wait.

The Tenutos’ TWOK volume includes some information and photos that Allan Asherman’s The Making of Star Trek II (Pocket Books, 1982) did. But beyond that minimal overlap, there is no comparison (to steal Star Trek: The Motion Picture’s tagline). The new Star Trek II book is a delightful, deluxe tribute to The Wrath of Khan, overflowing with intriguing details about the movie’s genesis (pun intended) and fascinating photos—in both black-and-white and color, unlike Asherman’s book—of the production and from the finished film.

After 41 years, some Star Trek fans may wonder, “How much is there left to know, really, about Star Trek II?” I suppose your mileage may vary, but I haven’t even finished reading the book and have already learned the answers to questions I never even knew to ask.

For example, I learned director and uncredited cowriter Nicholas Meyer watched an episode of Star Trek as part of a college assignment (p. 34), that DeForest Kelley celebrated his 62nd birthday on the TWOK set with “a cake that featured, appropriately, bones” (p. 37), and that Nichelle Nichols and her costumer engineered an elaborate musical prank around the often-malfunctioning “honeycomb” lighting panels at Spock’s science station (p. 42).

This Star Trek II book offers rich glimpses behind the scenes of a classic

The Tenutos’ book benefits from the passage of time. Freed from having to play the rather obvious promotional role Asherman’s nonetheless excellent book played, this Star Trek II book makes the credible case that the movie is, indeed, not simply a classic Star Trek film but a classic film, period. It details the thoughtful decisions and happy accidents alike that help the movie transcend its nature as a “franchise film.”

One of those fortunate flukes is mentioned in the entire chapter devoted to Khan’s Ceti eels, the “wee beasties” with which he controls Chekov and Terrell’s minds. Visual effects supervisor Ken Ralston recalls how the methylcellulose coating the foam puppets gave the eels an unplanned illusion of movement that really helped “sell” the effect (p. 128).

Key players in the production of TWOK get full-page “Starfleet Personnel File” profiles throughout, from executive producer Harve Bennett to Khan stunt double Bill Couch, Sr. Some of these profiles have a poignant effect since so many of these talented individuals are no longer with us. The chapter on “New and Returning Faces” makes for especially melancholy reading, since Kirstie Alley (Saavik), Merritt Butrick (David Marcus), Bibi Besch (Carol Marcus), Paul Winfield (Captain Terrell), John Winston (Commander Kyle), and Paul Kent (Commander Beach) have all passed on. But Judson Scott (Joachim), profiled later in the book, is not deceased.

As Spock tells Saavik about Kirk, “No one’s perfect.” Neither is any book. I wish the interesting look at vintage tie-in merchandise were longer, and I wish some small but noticeable mistakes had been caught in editing (Butrick and Scott appeared in “Symbiosis,” a season one episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, not a season two episode, contra p. 50).

But these nitpicks are small indeed. The Tenutos’ new Star Trek II book is a wonderful gift for all fans who prize this movie as not only one of Star Trek’s finest adventures but also an enduring example of well-crafted, character-driven science fiction.

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